Venerable Pachomius the Great, Founder of Coenobitic Monasticism

St. Pachomius lived in the Egyptian Thebaid, and is to cenobitic monasticism what St. Anthony the Great is to the eremitic (solitary) way, and what St. Nilus of Sora is to skete life in Russia. He is commemorated on May 15.

From his Life at OCA.org:

St. Pachomius receives the monastic rule and habit from an angelic messenger (14th c. fresco, Mount Athos).

Saint Pachomius the Great was both a model of desert dwelling, and with Saints Anthony the Great (January 17), Macarius the Great (January 19), and Euthymius the Great (January 20), a founder of the cenobitic monastic life in Egypt.

Saint Pachomius was born in the third century in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). His parents were pagans who gave him an excellent secular education. From his youth he had a good character, and he was prudent and sensible.

When Pachomius reached the age of twenty, he was called up to serve in the army of the emperor Constantine (apparently, in the year 315). They put the new conscripts in a city prison guarded by soldiers. The local Christians fed the soldiers and took care of them.

When the young man learned that these people acted this way because of their love for God, fulfilling His commandment to love their neighbor, this made a deep impression upon his pure soul. Pachomius vowed to become a Christian. Pachomius returned from the army after the victory, received holy Baptism, moved to the lonely settlement of Shenesit, and began to lead a strict ascetic life. Realizing the need for spiritual guidance, he turned to the desert-dweller Palamon. He was accepted by the Elder, and he began to follow the example of his instructor in monastic struggles.

Once, after ten years of asceticism, Saint Pachomius made his way through the desert, and halted at the ruins of the former village of Tabennisi. Here he heard a Voice ordering him to start a monastery at this place. Pachomius told the Elder Palamon of this, and they both regarded the words as a command from God.

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Inspirations, Part 1

As I prepare for another round of monastery travel and photography, I thought it might be inspiring for you (as well as for me!) to revisit some of my early posts on this website, which try to sketch out the contours of “Why” I am undertaking this two-year pilgrimage, “What” it means to me, and “Where” I hope it will lead.

With some minor editing, this is the section I wrote in Autumn 2015 on the Inspiration for the North American Thebaid.

Inspiration

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Eugene Rose (the future Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina) at about the time he saw a slide show on Orthodox monasticism which would change his life.

The inspiration for The North American Thebaid Project springs primarily from the example of seminarian Gleb Podmoshensky, whose 1961 pilgrimage to monastic sketes and settlements across the United States, Canada and Alaska, and his photographic slide show from these visits, had an inspiring and pivotal impact on a certain young man: Eugene Rose.

Gleb titled his presentation, “Holy Places in America,” and described his encounter with Eugene as follows:

Before Eugene’s amazed expression, Gleb recalls, “a new world of Apostolic Orthodoxy revealed itself. Color icons and portraits of saints and righteous ones of America; scenes of Blessed Fr. Herman’s Spruce Island in Alaska; renewed miracle-working icons that had been brought to America from Shanghai; abbesses and schemamonks in America; Canadian sketes; Holy Trinity Monastery and New Diveyevo Convent in New York, which brought the tradition of the Optina Elders to America, and so on. I gave a brief explanation of the slides, and of the phenomenon of the martyrdom of Holy Russia. Finally I told of the martyric fate of my father and its consequences, which had brought about my conversion to Christ and had eventually brought me here…

“The lecture was finished. My host, Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, drawing in his breath, said, ‘What a revelation!’”

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An Exhortation to Newly-tonsured Monks

Featuring photographs from my first pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, November 2016.  Full gallery to follow soon…

 

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Fr. Luke serving a pannikhida, surrounded by the brethren.   © Ralph H. Sidway, North American Thebaid.

Orthodox Life, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, January 4, 2017:

On the eve of December 20th, 2016 (o.s.), the first day of the Forefeast of Nativity and the feasts of St Ignatius the God-bearer and St John of Kronstadt, the abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery Archimandrite Luke tonsured two novices into the rank of rassaphore monks. Following the tonsure, Fr Luke greeted the new monks with this exhortation:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Dear fathers,

I congratulate you on receiving the grace of the tonsure into the riassa and the kamilavka. Stand fast, fathers, stand fast! Before you opens a banquet, a festive banquet — that is, the banquet of monasticism. The Lord invites you to take part in that banquet and you must agree to that invitation. You must come and take everything that the Lord offers you. We have all that is necessary for salvation in this monastery, but no one can force you. You need to come from your own free will and take what we offer.

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Veneration of the holy icons, lower chapel. © Ralph H. Sidway, North American Thebaid.

We sometimes say that our life is difficult; we have suffering, pain, problems. How can this be when the Lord says, My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Mt. 11:30)? There is a contradiction here. And why is there a contradiction? I think it is because of  one simple phrase: “We want!” We frequently want what we should not want and even when we want what is good we do not want it in the right way.

So therefore you have a chance to learn to desire those things that are good for you, that are good for your salvation. And what does the Lord want? He says very clearly. He says, “Man, give Me your heart !” (Prov. 23:26) How can we give the Lord our heart? To do this we need to — with all these problems, which mostly we create for ourselves —to come to him with the sufferings and the difficulties, to hand them over to Him, and from the depths of our souls, cry out, “Help me! Help me! Take this burden from me. Your burden is lighter.”

We ask the prayers of the brotherhood, of the seminarians and of all of our worshippers tonight for the salvation of the souls of Fathers Lev and Angelos.

Congratulations! Save yourself in the Lord!

Advice to Monastic Seekers

Insightful and practical guidance from Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany (ROCOR).

Advice to Potential Monastics, an interview with Archbishop Mark of Berlin;  Pravoslavie, August 5, 2013:

markofberlinWhy do people now go to monasteries not from an impoverished life but from a life of comfort, how can one find the right monastery, which of the holy fathers should be read, what is the proper relationship of a monastic to parents, should the internet be used, and why should young hieromonks should not be assigned to parishes? Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain, the head of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev, answers these questions.

—Are more or fewer people seeking the monastic life than before?

—It is difficult to say. I think that the contingent of our faithful is different than it was twenty or thirty years ago. We now have as a whole a greater number of believers, and corresponding to this growth is an increase in the number of monastics. I suppose that when people come from a live of poverty, they are not so inclined to monastic life than if they lived well. A person can more easily deny himself of what he has than of what he does not have.

—What do people expect from monasticism when they come to it today? What disappoints them?

—The most difficult thing—and not only in our time but always—is obedience and the denial of one’s own will. It is met with more resistance, more sharply today when a person lives in complete satisfaction, when the material world gives him all he wants. When there is no poverty, then one must reject all the external glitter, and as I said, this is not so hard. But what is hard is denying your own will. That is the problem.

—Can you learn monasticism from books?

—Books can help, they can give direction, but there is nothing like experience in order to really learn about it, just as any facet of life.

—What would you recommend new monastics to read today?

—First of all the Ancient Fathers: St Macarius of Egypt, St Anthony the Great. There are, of course, more contemporary guides, for example St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who can help one find the right path. But this cannot replace personal guidance.

—How does one choose a monastery to go to?

—That depends on the country—in some there are many monasteries, in others not even one. In Germany we did not have a convent for many years. We would send our candidates to neighboring France, or to the Holy Land.

Then we were able to open our own convent, because a few women came together who could not leave Germany. These were the external conditions which led to the establishment of a convent.

The choice here is not as easy as, for example, in Russia, Serbia, or Greece.

That is why there is no set rule. Much depends on the spiritual father of the monastery. Let us say a person comes as a pilgrim to some monastery, and he likes it there. He has the opportunity to adjust to this monastery, but he can also visit other monasteries, examine their daily rule, their life, and select the one that suits him best.

I always advise people to visit several monasteries. One monastery may have a set of rules which isn’t for everyone, and thank God, there are many different ustavy [monastic charters. —trans.]. A person should choose the one that suits him best.

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‘Souls to Match the Mountains!’

Fr. Seraphim Rose and the call for a North American Thebaid

 

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Two brief passages from Fr. Seraphim’s monastic life and writings make clear how he longed for an American Thebaid to flourish in his homeland, as it had in Orthodox lands in preceding centuries:

As at the beginning of his monastic path he had drawn inspiration from the phenomenon of desert-dwelling in northern Russia, so now was he to do so from an identical phenomenon in the land of his forefathers. The flight of God-seeking men and women into the Jura Mountains of ancient Gaul was in fact an exact precursor of the movement that began in Russia almost a millennium later. “The Jura monasteries,” wrote Fr. Seraphim in 1976 to a young monastic aspirant, “are especially interesting to us because they are a forested desert, very close to the spirit of the Northern Thebaid (or to the American Thebaid that could be if there were souls to match the mountains!).”

Excerpt From: Hieromonk Damascene. “Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.” iBooks edition, p. 1963.

The second excerpt comes from the Epilogue Fr. Seraphim wrote for The Northern Thebaid itself, and shows how his monastic inspiration was always connected with the real examples of earlier desert-dwelling men and women who serve as spiritual trailblazers, showing us the way:

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Doubt and the Monastic Journey

“To the reader, it will hardly sound surprising that the evil one is far from thrilled to hear that a man or woman wishes to profess monastic vows. If we imagine the whole body of the Church as an army of the faithful here on earth regarding the spiritual life, monks and nuns are like the elite special-ops teams. We stand on the front lines of the battle for the world, and the enemy sends the fiercest attacks against us.”

by Monk Kilian, Pravmir, July 7, 2010:

Within the Tradition of our Church, monastic tonsure is considered a sacrament, a holy mystery, and thus forms for the monk or nun a liminal event in life.

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(Photo of monastic tonsure included with the original article in Pravmir.)

Many sources consider tonsure to the schema a “second Baptism,” and having been recently tonsured myself as a stavrophore monk, I can vouch for the aptness of this description. Tonsure is the beginning of another life: all sins are washed away, the old man is laid aside, and a new person is born with a new name, given by the abbot or abbess and taken by the newly-enrolled soldier of Christ in love and obedience.

Like any mystery in the Church, tonsure itself and life as a fully professed monk is hard to put into words; I must admit I was a bit daunted by the task of speaking of doubt and tonsure simply because it defies expression on many levels. As with baptism or marriage, you cannot fully know what to expect on the other side of the font or the next day after the wedding. At these thresholds of our life in the Church, we have to leap out in faith, trusting that God is leading us along His path.

I had been a monastic for five years before my tonsure, and when I first entered the monastery, I was chomping at the bit to be tonsured into the schema. I had no clue about the hard work, both physical and spiritual, that monastic life would lay on me in order to peel away at least some of the passionate crust around my heart in order to begin to see who I really was, and who God wanted me to be.

Yet this process, as necessary as it may be, is also very frightening. Over the past few years, I’ve had to confront my own weaknesses in a very matter-of-fact way. I’ve had to humble myself (or be humbled, as it were) and deny myself: my way of thinking, my desires for my life, my understandings of where life was going.

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Inspirations

Bl Fr Seraphim - 015The inspiration for the North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage Project springs primarily from the example of seminarian Gleb Podmoshensky, whose 1961 pilgrimage to monastic sketes and settlements across the United States, Canada and Alaska, and his photographic slide show from these visits, had an inspiring and pivotal impact on a certain young man: Eugene Rose.

Gleb titled his presentation, “Holy Places in America,” and described his encounter with Eugene as follows:

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St Brendan’s Voyage – An Inspiration for the Thebaid Pilgrimage Project

ThroughAMonksEyesHere is a deeply inspiring contemplation (podcast) of the life of St Brendan the Voyager, the Irish monk who set out on his epic pilgrimage with no destination, yet who found his eternal, spiritual destination, and made an enduring impact on Christianity in the British Isles, Ireland and Scotland as a result. He has quickly become an inspiration to me for the North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage Project, and perhaps will be for your Christian walk as well! I hope he inspires you to follow along with me as we prepare to launch the Thebaid Crowdfunding Campaign, which will enable travel and photography to begin later this Summer!

St Brendan: the Questioning Heart

Through a Monk’s Eyes Podcast, Ancient Faith Radio; Fr. Seraphim Aldea of the Mull Monastery of All Celtic Saints shares about the life of St. Brendan. Audio Podcast: Length: 23:57

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New Feature: Videos on Orthodox Monasticism

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Simonopetra Monastery, Mount Athos Greece (photo by R. Sidway)

For some time I have been collecting videos on Orthodox Christian monasticism in North America and from around the world. I’ve created a couple of special YouTube playlists to share these glimpses into the monastic way, and have set them up on a special Video page.

Also included is the promo video for the North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage Project, which will be widely distributed when we (soon!) launch the crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the initial travel and photography to begin.

Be sure to sign up for email updates, and watch for a special page on Podcasts and Audio features on monasticism coming soon, and a list of suggested books.

 

Monks

“Holiness is not something that is just about the saints, whose icons we venerate and whose lives we read about. Holiness is better understood as wholeness, made whole, or healed…”

by Abbot Tryphon, The Morning Offering, February 12, 2016, All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington:

AbbotTryphon

The monastic vocation is a special calling from God that is all about relationships. It is a relationship that involves community (the monastic brotherhood), but primarily revolves around the monk’s relationship with God.

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